As a small game studio in the valley when we play games it is also a learning process to understand what works and what doesn’t. We have always looked up to Naughty Dog for inspiration. After waiting seven years for Last of Us II, and lots of anticipation, we downloaded and finished the game this week. For everyone of us involved in playing (six people), one thing we all agreed on was that it was a mixed bag. There has been a storm of emotions online about people totally loving or hating the game. Here’s our take on what Naughty Dog got right and where they, well, didn’t quite hit the mark. We will compare each section with the first part of Last of Us.
Homogenous Experience (6/10): Naughty Dog’s ability to engage the players is unparalleled, it combines the story line, game design, attention to detail and music to create a homogeneous experience that puts the player right in there with the characters. You feel their pain and rejoice when they’re happy. You become part of the story and relate to the characters as someone you would know in real life, sometimes imagining yourself being one of them. That connection is special and very personal. That is why the outrage online is profoundly personal. Although some of the elements mentioned above were as usual phenomenal, they did not come together as well as the first part of LoU.
Gameplay (10/10): We want to separate the gameplay from the story and other aspects to be able to address them individually. The choice of weapons, the right mix of cut scenes and game play, the interactions with other characters, the right amount of action sequences compared to story building was not only as good as the first part of LoU but in many instances way better.
Music (7/10): The music set last of us part 1 apart from most games out there. We are still a big fan of and play the soundtrack from the first part. In the second part though, it just did not meet our expectations this time around, it was not bad but it just did not increase the engagement or augmented emotions as well as part 1. It was not unique enough, not enough heart-felt and sounded in many places very generic and like other games. We would venture to say that most players will likely not download the soundtrack as much as they did for the first part, except maybe for Joel’s song. We rated first part at 10/10.
Game Design (10/10): The game design is so “Naughty Dog” in the second part and extremely life-like. The views in the second part are breathtaking, the foliage in Seattle, the lakes and the waterfalls. How the emotions are captured, the dynamics and mechanics of movements just extraordinary. From the first screen to the last shot of the game, you feel that you are experience a superior game. The game design exceeds our expectations compared to part one. We can’t wait to play this game again on PS5 withe even better graphics and hopefully less fan noise from PS4.
Attention to Detail (10/10): From the realistic backpack movement to the hair, to eye details, footprints, reactions of people to light. How dogs react to different things and how secondary characters react to losing dogs and friends. Even the mechanics of the rope and power chords were carefully developed. Regardless of where you look, Naught Dog has, one again, outdone themselves. Any game studio out there should take notice of why most no details were taken for granted, it’s for a simple reason, because players care and they notice. Each time they notice not enough detail, it gets registered. Kudos to the Naughty Dog team.
Story (5/10): This is the first Naughty Dog game where we felt the story was the weakest element of the game. Not because Joel died or there were multiple story paths. While it was brilliant to narrate the story from sides and humanize the other side to highlight that the humans are shades of good and bad. Departure from all-good heroes and all-evil villains is a great of fresh air is as real as real life. However, the story did not feel emotionally consistent, it was almost as if the authors were in different places emotionally and it showed in the storyline. It also did not honor the emotional affliction of the fans, the characters who were central, such as Joel were killed off unceremoniously. The shift from central characters in the first part to being secondary was abrupt instead of being transitional. Emotionally speaking, real life is transitional and not abrupt though events might be. This was the biggest disconnect in the story. The story seemed less heartfelt and more twisted to capitalize on player reactions. Naughty Dog should consider a DLC that is closer to the first part that addresses some of the inconsistencies mentioned above or perhaps an alternate story line.
Naughty Dog got everything right expect for the music and the story line. It is almost as if something in the vetting process has changed, bring it back!